Safety tips for skydiving (and maybe life as well)

Thursday, June 27, 2013


You have to stay one step ahead of the game. You need to be ready. Don’t rest for a second. Expect everything that can go wrong to go wrong on every jump you make. We respond correctly and immediately when we are anticipating a problem. Being surprised by a situation usually slows our response time.

When you track off from a jump expect people to be close to you. Expect a hard pull. Expect a malfunction. Expect canopies to be coming at you. Expect someone to cut you off in the pattern.

A hard pull is a good example of this. Several times I’ve seen jumpers open low. When I asked them what they were doing down there they said they had a hard time finding or pulling their pilot chute. But they got it out on the third try. If they got it out on the third try it wasn’t that hard! The only difference was by the third try they expected it was going to be difficult and got serious about doing a good pull. Expect it to be difficult each time and get serious about the first pull!

I don’t know of anyone who was in a canopy collision who saw it coming. They didn’t see it coming because they weren’t looking. And they weren’t looking because they thought it couldn’t happen to them. As a general rule we don’t get more separation after opening, we get less. People don’t open and then fly away. More often we are all aiming for the same general landing areas. After opening we get closer and closer until landing. Canopies are converging. If you’re not looking you are aiming for a canopy collision.

I’m not asking everyone to skydive scared. Just to wake up. Be aware, be ready, be in control, don’t be a victim. If you do this you’ll grow up to be an old skydiver. And I’m looking forward to partying with all my old skydiving friends for many years to come.


I have seen and heard a few too many times about skydivers who took too long to decide what to do with a canopy that wasn’t working properly after opening. Skydivers landing canopies they should have cutaway or being indecisive and taking too long to cutaway, sometimes with fatal results. We often hear people saying, “I thought I could get out of it”, “I wasn’t sure if it was good or not.” If you have to ask yourself if your canopy is good or not, than it’s not good!

Remember when you were a student. Freefall was fast and loud, your heart was pumping, adrenalin running through your veins. You’d throw out your pilot chute and gently slow down as your main parachute blossomed open. Hanging underneath your parachute everything was quiet and serene, the opposite of freefall. As you looked up at your canopy it was almost as if it was looking down at you saying “It’s all good, I got you.” It felt like you were getting some love from your canopy, your best friend.

So, if after you deploy you look up at your canopy and you’re not getting any love, CUT IT AWAY!

Stay sharp. Keep it safe up there.


Thanks for the great response to the posts I did about safety. We’ve gotten a lot of people talking and that’s good. Many have asked me my thoughts on selecting the right canopy. The best answer I have is to pick a canopy you can land easily and gently under any and all conditions. I jump a PD Katana 107 for several reasons. 1) It opens soft every time and I refuse to jump anything that might open fast. When I had a Stiletto 120 I put Dacron lines on it to guarantee a slow opening. You can’t jump a lot and have hard openings. 2) I can land it gently anytime, anywhere under any conditions. I weigh 165 and I can easily land it flying straight into the wind, cross wind or down wind. I can land it gently at 5000′ or sea level. I can dodge dust devils or other canopies and still land easily. I can land off the DZ and sink it into a tight area if I have to.

I see a lot of skydivers picking the canopy that is only perfect for them in the perfect situation. That perfect situation doesn’t happen often enough. Pick the canopy that “has your back” no matter what the situation is.

One other thing, never forget how to do a good PLF. Skydivers often break a leg when they try to stand up when they are obviously descending too fast. If at one or two meters off the ground you realize you are going to land harder than you’d like get your feet and knees together and get ready to roll. A good PLF can save most broken legs and sprained ankles.


There has been a lot of discussion recently about whether experienced jumpers should use RSLs.  This discussion has actually been going on for years.  Throughout my skydiving career I chose not to use an RSL.  The logic for this being that if I had to cutaway and only had one parachute left I wanted to be as flat and stable as possible before deploying my reserve.  For some 25+ cutaways I did just that and it worked fine.  I was always under my reserve plenty high.

A couple of years ago I saw a good friend, and very competent skydiver with over 2000 jumps, ride a gently spinning malfunction down to about 500 feet and then cutaway.  She never got the reserve out.  I thought long and hard about this.  It occurred to me that there had been several times over the years that I ended up in freefall lower than I had intended.  Fortunately those weren’t the times I had malfunctions but they just as easily could have been.

It’s the combinations of problems that get you in trouble.  You know, those times when you break off and deploy a little lower than you planned.  But you have a hard pull, then a pilot hesitation, then a snivel, then a malfunction, then it takes an extra second to get your hand on the cutaway handle, now you are down at 1000 or lower and cutting away, then you tumble for a few seconds before getting stable and pulling your reserve.

I decided that this type of scenario was more likely, and risky, than using an RSL and cutting away from a spinning malfunction which could then possibly hinder my reserve opening.  The RSL deploys the reserve so quickly that this shouldn’t be a problem. And with a Skyhook, which is even better than an RSL, you don’t even have time to get unstable before your reserve is out.  I’ve had three cutaways now with a skyhook and it is more like a canopy transfer.  I didn’t for even a second have that feeling of going back into freefall.

After looking at all the different scenarios I came to the conclusion that getting a parachute over your head as quickly as possible was the most important thing to do.

Everyone needs to make this decision for themselves.  But as far as whether an experienced jumper should use a skyhook and/or an RSL, I absolutely think the benefits far outweigh the risks.  Both my rigs have skyhooks and RSLs on them.  And I’m a fairly experienced skydiver.



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13 thoughts on “Safety tips for skydiving (and maybe life as well)”

  1. Thanks for all the safety stuff Dan. There can never be to much.
    I’ve been looking into the Skyhook to replace my RSL and it is deffinitely the way to go. RSL ain’t going to save you at 400 ft. Like you, I know several fellow skydivers who could have been saved with the Skyhook. I asked my rigger to refit my Odyssey only to find out that it is not practicaly possible on these containers prior to 2007 ( mine is 2001 ). Seriously looking to get a post 2007 rig.

  2. “I’ve been looking into the Skyhook to replace my RSL and it is deffinitely the way to go. RSL ain’t going to save you at 400 ft.”

    Terry, you sound like an experienced jumper, but it also sounds like you’re using a Skyhook as a licence/permission to cutaway at 400 feet. Are you planning to allow yourself to do that when you have a Skyhook?

  3. Thanks for the all the safety tips. I am a new/beginner skydiver. So new. that I haven’t finished my AFF course yet. I’ve had a set back in my training because I didn’t land the way I should have during my Level 3 course. I ended up dislocating my L ankle and spraining/injuring my R ankle & shin. I consider myself fortunate to where I can use this information and learn from my mistake. I should have listened to my instincts but the voice in my ear was leading me a different direction. In my observation, 1) I was landing the same direction as the wind, 2) because my student canopy is a larger one, I didn’t flare in time-I needed start higher, & 3) landing on the road, I didn’t PLF correctly, my legs were straight out. I’ve run this over & over in my head. What can I do to prevent this from happening next time?

    I really appreciate your safety advice and I look forward to skydiving with you one day at Perris. Looking forward to reading your book too!

    1. Hi Bobbie, Thanks for saying “hi”. Without having more information or having seen your landing for myself it’s hard to give you specific feedback on what you did right or wrong. As a new jumper it’s hard to say if how you remember it is actually the way it happened. But I can say this. Pick your landing spot and set up your pattern for it at a higher altitude. That should keep you away from the road or other obstacles. For the PLF, practice, practice, practice. It should be something you do with muscle memory, instinctive. Not something you need to think too much about. Get all healed up and get back in the air. Look around at the people you know who are skydivers. If we can do it, it can’t be that hard. Let me know what you think of the book. Looking forward to seeing you out in Perris.

  4. Thanks Dan for your feedback! I’ll have to talk to my instructor to see what he remembers about my landing. I’ll definitely be back as soon as I get the “all clear” from my doctor.

    Thanks again!!

  5. A great big thank you for backing up the advice with action. The RSL debate along with a very similar AAD discussion have been going on at least for my 23 years in the sport. It’s one thing to say that an RSL is a good idea, and quite another to follow it with “both my rigs have skyhooks and RSL’s”. Thank you again. There’s not a one of us that doesn’t need that kind of encouragement. -Scott

    1. Thanks for the feedback Scott. It took me many years to make the decision to use an RSL and I was on the phone with Sunpath for an hour learning about the Skyhook before I decided to get one. Both my rigs have Vigil AADs also. I also use an audible and visual altimeter. But most important, I don’t trust that any of these safety tools to work. They are all back up systems which we will only need if we seriously screw up. First safety rule, don’t screw up.
      Thanks again. Talk to you soon, Dan

  6. I had my first cutaway about two months ago, it was a high pull jump, around 9000 feet. I pulled my pilot chute and began to spin right away, I kicked my legs out and tried to untwist, but it wouldn’t budge. Out of pure instinct, I pulled my cutaway, then my reserve, but my RSL got my reserve out before I did. It all happened so fast and before I knew it, I was under reserve at about 7500 feet. As far as the RSL goes, knowing how quickly I pulled both handles, I could probably do without it, but I choose to keep it connected. When we do sunset flock high jumps we all disconnect them, mainly because if we ever become entangled, we can cutaway, then get away, and pull the reserve.


    1. Hi Jerry, There are definitely certain jumps you wouldn’t want to have your RSL hooked up on, CRW for instance. But you shouldn’t be anymore likely to get entangled on a sunset flock jump than on any other jump. Don’t let the sunset distract you from keeping you from staying aware of everyone you’re in the air with. Thanks, Dan

    1. All skydiver has to have a skyhook. Rsl is good but Skyhook may save live if you have a reserve malfonction. We have to know that. Please just look this video, it’s a rare reserve malfonction but since this time, i have a rig with a skyhook. It’s a normal morning skidive, but we have to know that, may be reserve will not opening properly and the Skyhook is a must…

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